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Ideal Camping Spot for the Great American Road Trip

29 July 2017 – Cloudy and raining, highs in the mid 80’s
This week we had some old friends of Pilot Dave’s visit on their way home from camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. By old friends, I don’t mean they were old, just that Dave has been friends with them for a long time. They go way back to the early 80’s, which their kids all thought was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Anyway, there were two couples with two kids each in two campers. The families were really fun and they were all very nice. And they brought one sweet little dog.

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Tiki – Champion of the Multistate Camping Trip

 
They parked next to the driveway which was the most level place we could put them. They had been camping in the National Parks and we think this was a welcome reprieve for them from the crowded campgrounds. They did have some noisy neighbors, though (Cowboy Dave’s cattle!) but were able to get some peace and quiet. We were also grateful they brought rain with them each night, which we desperately needed.IMG_2613IMG_2601IMG_2598
The first night when they arrived, we gave them the tour of the property in the mule and by foot. They spent the next day enjoying the Black Hills and seeing Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave, and the beautiful secret jewel that is Custer State Park. After their adventures, they returned to the Holler and we grilled burgers and dogs. The boys enjoyed some time shooting guns off the back porch, and one of the young girls showed them all up with her Dead-eye abilities and plinked a barrel 150 yds away with only the 2nd shot she had ever fired….EVER.
Their visit was short and sweet and we were happy to have the company. It always makes us happy to see dear friends, but especially to see families taking their kids to see the Great American West. There truly is no match to the beauty of the country out here. Photos, TV, or even virtual reality will never do justice to this beautiful place or the amazing parks that are not that far from the Holler.

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Buffalo in Custer State Park

 

A Christmas Blizzard

26 December 2016 – Snow, wind, more wind, and high of 25°F

We had a lovely Christmas Eve. It was 40° and sunny!  We went to our sweet neighbors’ for a ham dinner and had a really nice evening.  Christmas morning the fun began.

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Blowing Snow and Reduced Visibility

 

We have an all-out blizzard going on right now. It is windy and blowing snow.  Yesterday, we shoveled the driveway but it was a waste of time and effort because the snow has just drifted right on over all of our work.

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Shoveling the Old Fashioned Way

 

While we are warm and safe in the camper, and able to hang out in the house some, we are kind of disappointed because this was supposed to be the mega-productive week. We were expecting the paint to be finished today, but there is no way the painter can make it down our road or up our driveway.  He has done a great job so far!

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Paint in the Basement

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First Coat in the Kitchen

 

Incidentally, the painting has not been drama free. Dave and I went back and forth multiple times about the color to paint.  We wanted the house to be one color, something sort of off white and bright and cheery.  We settled on Valspar “Churchill Hotel Ivory”. Picking a paint color is not a lifelong decision, but still, we didn’t want to have to paint again if we didn’t like it. We even had the dry wall team paint up a sample and held it up to the beams, the floor sample, the countertop sample etc.  The first day the painter primed and put a coat of it on (every room by the way), we weren’t quite sure we liked it.  The first coat was a lot more yellow than we anticipated.  It kind of looked like we were living inside a tennis ball!  We had a few moments of despair because we certainly didn’t want him to start over.  We decided to give it some time and fortunately it mellowed quite a bit after drying.  We decided we not only like it, but we love it. Todd gave us some reassurance as well, that the dark floors really need a bright color to balance it out.  We can’t wait to see what it looks like when all the pieces and parts are put together.

We are hoping that we can shovel out by at least Wednesday because our cabinets and appliances are supposed to be delivered, and Todd wants to start installing the cabinets right away so he can do the flooring after that.

I guess by the time anyone reads this blog post, we will have shoveled out because I can’t post it from here on the Holler due to the limited internet. So, if you don’t get this post by New Year’s Eve, send the Saint Bernards!  But wait, that doesn’t make sense, how could you know if you don’t get this post?  Sorry, my brain is half frozen! Please disregard any crazy rambling….it should clear up by spring.

Merry Christmas!

21 December – Sunny and 29°F – Super Windy

The first day of winter!

We are still here in the camper but we are pleased with the work that is being done on the house. The texture is almost complete, they should be done today.  The painter is supposed to be here and working behind him, so hopefully we will have the house painted by this weekend.

Yesterday we spent the entire day in Rapid. We spent a long time at Lowe’s looking at lights and a little time at Menard’s doing the same thing.  We had lunch and then went to the commissary to do our grocery shopping for the month.  We also went by Creative Marblecast to look at the sinks again, since we are having a hard time deciding what color we want in the bathrooms.

We stopped in Custer on the way home to fill up propane bottles and get some movies from the library. We don’t have cable TV, and finally got ourselves a TV/DVD player so we have something to do when it gets dark at 4PM.  It feels much like a deployment when you watch a lot of movies in your down time.

We arrived back here after dark and tackled the enormous task of unloading groceries into a tiny camper fridge and freezer. Fortunately, it is still below freezing outside so we put what we couldn’t fit in the freezer in a cooler out there.  We have been trying to do a big shopping trip for groceries only once per month, and supplementing perishables with little trips here and there to Custer or Hot Springs.  When we go to the commissary we really load up on canned and dry goods.

The limited grocery trips and the very limited cooking area require some creative cooking and meal planning. I have even considered auditioning for the Next Food Network Star show.  They always have these aspiring chefs with interesting points of view like:  Farm to Table, Creole Cooking, Family Style Cooking, Gluten Free, etc.  My point of view would be cooking in a camper.  Dave said I could call my show “The Campered Chef”.  I would only cook meals on a 2- burner gas range, the oven is too small and burns everything.  I would also have about 3 square feet for all preparation and dishes. Everything would be served on paper plates.  I would limit the ingredients list to what is in the cabinet, leading to some interesting recipes toward the end of the month!  The judges would say things like, “I would not pay to eat this in a restaurant.”  Or, “The presentation is messy.  It looks like you just dumped it out of a pot into a bowl.”  And I would say, “Yes, but I made it all in the camper with limited space and limited grocery choices….. and it’s cold and we’re hungry so we aren’t picky!”

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The Campered Chef Kitchen

 

Seriously, Dave and I have been eating pretty well. He is an excellent chef, but it has been too cold to use the grill and we have been coming up with some pretty good dinners despite the circumstances.  For Christmas, we have traditionally made a very fancy meal of things we wouldn’t normally make.  Favorites from the past have included a standing rib roast, lobster, bananas foster, crab bisque, crème brule, and one year we had elk stew.  I seriously doubt this year we will be making anything you have to light on fire, and we are in fact struggling for determining the menu.  Suggestions?  What are people in real houses having for Christmas this year?

We are sincerely wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas. 2016 has been an exciting and eventful year for us and we are very grateful to all of our friends and family for the love and support – AND for not having us hauled off to the looney bin for chasing this crazy dream!

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View from the west porch
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A Christmas Yeti on Stagecoach Springs

That Sounds Like a Grand Idea!

7 December 2016  – Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary – God Bless the Vets of the Greatest Generation

-4°F this morning but warming up to 12°F – partly cloudy

The warm autumn is long gone and it seems to have taken all the double-digit temperatures with it.  It has been cold and it is forecast to be colder for the foreseeable future.img_2263

We are burning through some propane, but we have been pretty warm.  We keep the camper thermostat at a balmy 64° and the heater is running nearly continuously day and night.  Fingers crossed that it continues to work!  We haven’t had much snow so far, but it’s coming.  (I’m dreaming of a white Christmas!) 

Our water pump and fresh tank have frozen again, but it is inevitable with the wind-chills in the negative teens. Dave and I were discussing the best way to get a warm shower despite our plumbing issues and we recalled a conversation held long ago on a warm and sunny Florida day, long before embarking on this big adventure. It went something like this:

  • Dave:  “We should find a rental place near the build site so we can see the progress as the house goes up.”
  • Me:  “Or, we could just buy a little camper, live on site and not have to throw away rent money!”
  • Dave:  “That sounds like a grand idea!  But it might get cold in the camper if we’re still building in the winter.”
  • Me: “I’m up for it if you are.  How bad can it be?”
  • Dave: “I’m up for it, we can survive the cold for a few months. Besides, it’s the banana belt! Let’s do it!”

And here we are, 8 months into the big adventure. Image result for shining meme + cold

The good news is there has been some great progress on the house.  Sheet rock, taping and texturing is happening this week through next.  The dumb-waiter is being installed.  The ventilation is being prepared for the gas range.  The mini-splits are in!  We have made decisions on floors, carpet and sink countertops.  The house is coming together and it is looking spectacular.

Another fun activity for us has been monitoring the temperature in the house to make sure it is within the plus/minus limit that the sheetrock needs as it dries.  Fortunately, the house is super insulated and it holds its temperature extremely well.  It is usually around 55 degrees when the construction crew leaves. They have a little propane blast furnace inside they use while they work and there is a lot of passive solar heat from the south facing windows during the day.  As the sun sets (at around 4PM) the temperatures outside plummet but the house is usually still in the mid 50’s at 8PM.  The sheet rock has to be maintained above 55 and below 65 to dry properly.  Before we go to bed we pop into the house and crank the propane heater to get the temp inside to around 60.  Then we monitor it via remote sensor from the camper.  Dave has been getting up between 4 and 4:30 AM to crank the blast furnace again as the temp only then falls to the 55 degrees.  That is some pretty good insulation!  Fortunately, we shouldn’t have to do this much longer once the sheet rock and taping is completely cured. 

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Blast furnace in the basement, used to keep house at temp while sheet rock dries.

 

I hope this post finds all of you out there warm and well.  Don’t worry about us, we are truly having a blast (an arctic blast)! It helps that we have both spent longer stretches of time in worse places, a Coast Guard Cutter in the Bering Sea, a tent in Saudi Arabia…etc. etc.  Life in the Holler, even in a camper, ain’t too bad. We remain happy, healthy, and optimistic and hope the same for all of you reading.

 

 

Morale Buster – Morale Booster

2 December 2016

High of 34° – Super Sunny

It seems our streak of super nice weather has come to an end.  The last week was tough as temps dipped into the teens each night and it hasn’t been above freezing except for today.  Also, it has been cloudy and crazy windy, leading to some problems with a camper running off of solar power and exposed to the elements.

We woke up Tuesday morning to find our water pump had frozen, despite the hay bales all around the camper.  We have to unhook the water hose to the camper from the hydrant each night, as the hose will freeze and the ice will move into the camper plumbing system and the hydrant causing all kinds of problems.  So, to have water available, we have a fresh water tank in the camper and a water pump that provides water to the hot water heater, the toilet and the faucets.  Well, Tuesday morning el pumpo no worko!  Frustration followed as we realized the hydrant was frozen as well so we had no access to running water.  The high on Tuesday was in the 20’s and it was cloudy and windy with no chance of thawing out and not a lot of excess power from the solar panels…..ugh….morale buster!

We went to Custer and bought some antifreeze and a space heater to stick under the camper.  We were both feeling pretty low, thinking we may have busted our camper and how it would be next to impossible to live out here without any running water.  We even contemplated winterizing the camper and getting a month to month rental in town…morale buster. Image result for winter memes

I talked to my parents on the phone that day. Dad told me how when he grew up they didn’t have running water or heat in their house.  He grew up in Iowa and the cold winters were not easy in that situation.  He said they would wake up and have to break ice off the top of the water bucket to get something to drink, then he and his siblings would run to the barn which was warm because that’s where the cows were!  Well, I guess we don’t have it that bad in our little propane heated camper.  Mom said, “things break and when it’s cold they break a lot.”  I’ll take these wise lessons from two seasoned farmers who lived in a time where cold and no water were the norm, not the exception. Thanks for the gut-check Mom and Dad….morale booster! 

Wednesday morning, Pilot Dave and I woke with a fresh perspective.  This is South Dakota and winter is here and we aren’t going to quit that easily.  Dave took my hair dryer to the water pump and I covered the hydrant with black plastic and his grill cover, hoping to get some warmth in there or at least protect the pipe from the wind.  Around 10 AM, the water pump defrosted and came back to life.  Morale Booster!  It really is the little things out here that make all the difference.

Since then, we have decided to run the pump off and on throughout the night to keep some water moving. This seems to be working – morale booster.  We also have discovered we have a leak somewhere, and the waste water pipe to the dump valve has frozen solid – morale buster.  The roller coaster continues. Today I am doing laundry in Hot Springs (which has the nicest laundromat I have ever seen in my life) and Dave is at Ace hardware picking up some heat tape and sealant for the pipes.  We are not yet defeated!  The forecast has two days next week with highs in the teens and it is supposed to drop below zero at night. An arctic blast!  Our plan of attack is to stock up on propane and keep that camper and underbelly as warm as possible.  We can also run the generator at night to keep the heat tape warm and put a light bulb under the camper body amongst the hay bales if necessary.  Wish us luck!

Other good news is the progress on the house.  The sheet rock guys (aka the Sheet Rockers….could be the name of a new rock band?) have been at it all week and are making tons of progress.  Todd and his crew have been doing a heap of work as well and it seems like things are accelerating.  The house is so insulated that even though the temps are in the teens at night it has remained 50 degrees or more!

So the saga continues…….despite what has been the low point in our adventure thus far we are still happy to be here.  We really have no complaints, we are healthy, happy, eating well, entertained by cows, and definitely appreciating the freedom we have out here.  We hope you will continue to read and I promise there will be less crabbing in the next blog, come hell or high water or snow drifts and no water.

EEK! A Mouse!!!

 

25 October 2016, Partly cloudy with highs in the lower 60’s

Anyone that has ever lived in the country can attest to the problem of unwanted houseguests…aka…mice.  I thought we could preempt this problem by doing some research.  I read on the internet (so it must be true!) that Irish Spring soap will keep mice at bay.  I put an open bar of the stinky green soap in every compartment I felt could be compromised, and all summer we never had a problem. We also had the to live with the pungent odor of the Irish Spring.  Every time Dave would open the storage compartment he would say, “Smells like a leprechaun in here!”

Shortly after moving out of the campground and away from civilization, we began hearing little scratching noises at night.  Sure enough, we found a hole where the sink water pipe exits the camper and there was definite evidence of intruders! To add insult to injury, we went around and looked at all the bars of Irish Spring and every one had little teeth marks in them; clearly mice think Irish Spring is a delicacy!

That night we loaded up a mouse trap and caught the culprit.  We sealed up the hole with some screen and felt that we had solved our problem.  Several weeks later, more scratching and more evidence of mice!  We found another hole where the heater enters the camper and sealed that one with screen as well.  We also threw a trap in there for good measure and we have caught more than one mouse.

We have tried peppermint packets as deterrent.  These also ended up with little teeth marks….hmmmm. We tried dryer sheets, but haven’t seen any effect.  At least the mice we catch smell Downy Fresh! The problem is likely due to the following:

1.        We live in the country – all neighbors here say this is just part of country living.

2.       We have surrounded the camper with hay bales for insulation – what could be more inviting for mice?

3.       No cat – this will change when we have a real house. 

We definitely appreciate all the feedback on the blog.  We got some interesting advice about picking out commodes!  Again, we are soliciting any suggestions about keeping the mice away!

 

The Two-Part Move

14-15 September, Cold and Highs in the 40s, followed by lots and lots of rain

Well, we finally did it.  We left Fort Welikit and pulled the Happy Camper out to Hoten Holler.  First we had a going away cookout with the owner and our fellow work campers.

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It was a great summer, everyone got along well and we kept the campground running.  Work-camping was a fun experience, but I can’t say we would do it again.  This is mostly because we are hermit crabs and we don’t want to live in a campground….so on to a more secluded location!

 It is amazing how much stuff you can accumulate living in a small space, and we felt we needed to unload some things to lighten the load on the truck (Truck Norris).  We packed up Dave’s ceramic grill, all of our patio furniture, and a cooler full of cookware and canned goods and loaded them up on the awesome trailer we snagged from Iowa a few weeks ago. img_1943

We drove this the 20 miles down to the property and unloaded everything.  It was pretty danged cold on the 14th and we were happy to get done.  We packed the remaining items up on the 15th and brought Happy down to the Holler.  We are so completely grateful that the weather was good and it wasn’t muddy when we traveled.  We had great luck and were able to get set up on the southeast corner of the property.  Thanks, of course, to Cowboy Dave for helping find a great level location and lending us some stumps and blocks to even things out. 

The first night we were here, it rained all night long.  We woke up in a mud pit but were happy that the camper was rock-steady and hadn’t slid in the mud down the hill.  The weather has improved and we are finding our footings (no pun intended).  Thanks for reading!

 

Camper Life NOT in a Campground

17 September, Sunny and high 70s

We survived the move and have spent the last 2 days living basically off the grid.  We are using solar power to run the camper, propane to run the heat, and cooking on a grill.  We loaded up our freshwater tanks with water on the way into the property, since we do not have enough fresh water hose to reach the tap.  While it may seem to some of you readers like we are living on the moon, we still get Amazon deliveries and ordered a longer freshwater hose which should be here on Monday.  Consequently, we are in full on water saving mode.  We can walk up the hill to the tap and fill gallon jugs with water for things like drinking, doing dishes, brushing teeth etc.  But we are whittling away at our fresh water supply for showers and toilet flushes.

We are also a bit of a distance from the septic.  We couldn’t park right next to it or we would be right in the way of construction so we have come up with an alternative solution.  If you don’t want to hear about the lovely duties of emptying and cleaning a black water tank in an RV, you should probably just stop reading now.

We bought a portable wastewater tank…aka..poo tank.  We can hook up the drain between the camper and the poo tank and load up 15 gallons of waste.  Then we roll it over to the septic and hook up the drain and dump into the septic system.  What can I say, camper life ain’t for fancy people!  So far this isn’t too bad, but we aren’t rolling through snow yet.

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The “Poo” Tank

 

We don’t have garbage service yet.  Dave was resourceful enough to come up with a hollowed out steel barrel which we are using as a burn barrel for our burn-worthy garbage.  We have to be careful, though, because it gets really windy here and we don’t want to be known as “those people from Florida who burnt down the National Forest!”

Another interesting adjustment is the lack of internet here.  Dave still has some data on his phone, but I am back in the dark ages.  It will likely be longer between blog posts because I’ll have to get to town to get them uploaded via someone’s WIFI, but fear not Hoten Holler-er Foller-ers….We will still keep writing from this end.

We also have no TV and limited radio stations.  I hope we get into our house quickly or Dave and I are really going to run out of things to say to one another.  We are doing good so far and haven’t resorted to grunting at each other like cavemen, but that might not be too far off in the future. So anyone that wants to write us an ACTUAL LETTER, please feel free!  I promise I will write back.  (Oh, a shout-out to say thanks to my friend Ray!  It totally made my day after I ran all the way up to the mail box today and didn’t just have junk mail or bills but a great letter from a good friend!)

So it looks like an autumn full of reading, running, and of course ranch work.  There is no shortage of things to do here. Today we fenced in the lower SW corner around the build site so we can get cows out here in the next few weeks.  Tomorrow we will hang the gates for the driveway. Other upcoming events include:  painting/sealing the inside of the cistern; painting the trailer; limbing trees for their health and for good landscaping, cutting/gathering fire wood, helping neighbors when we can; general ranch and camper maintenance.

We are also enjoying some leisure here.  As you can see, we like to sit and watch the sunset from our future living room.img_1971img_1973

Tonight, Dave is grilling a steak from the Black Hills Meat Market. Next week, Dave’s Mom and John will come visit for a few days.  Last night we had a great dinner with all of our neighbors. We walked home up the gravel road under the light of the most spectacular full moon.  We are expecting our timber beams to show up in the next few days and cannot wait to see what they will look like in the house.  We are loving it here, thanks for reading!

 

Return of the Dragon!

19 May 2016 – Sunny – Finally! – 72°F

Thursday was a beautiful day in Custer, finally, the weather we have been waiting for!  It looks like it will be good for the next 10 days too so we are pretty happy about that. 

We recruited the help of our fellow work campers, Bill and Bill, and drove to our storage unit in Rapid City to retrieve Dave’s smoker, the Kamado Joe, a.k.a. “Dragon.” Dave has been wanting to grill something since we arrived 6 weeks ago, and has been denied the opportunity due to lack of equipment.  Cooking in this small kitchen has become torture to him and he wanted his smoker, so we went and got it!  Thanks to the kind Bills, the four of us were able to load it up into the back of the Tundra and drive it back up the hill to the campground.  We unloaded it into our camp yard and Dave proceeded to grill some hotdogs for lunch.

After a lazy afternoon sitting in the sun, Dave cranked up the dragon to about 450° and baked a sweet potato for an hour.  He then cranked it up even hotter and threw on a ribeye steak.   We had what we call “Death Row Dinner” which is what we would order if it were our last meal.  Salad, sweet potato, ribeye and wine.  

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This morning, he is at it again.  He is making artisan bread in a dutch oven….if you’re worried about us up here, I promise we are not starving!

 

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